Introducing KettleCorn: Forking Popcorn Maker for Journalists

KettleCorn home page

Popcorn Maker makes it easy to enhance, remix and share interactive web videos by combining audio and video with live web content. But despite its potential power, there has been limited adoption by professional journalists. That’s why ODDI stepped in: to find out why journalists weren’t using it and to create a new tool to address any issues.

This past summer we began transforming Popcorn Maker into KettleCorn with the goal of tailoring the tool for BBG journalists broadcasting around the world. We wanted to rethink, enhance and restyle Popcorn Maker to create a storytelling platform built around the BBG mission of supporting international, multi-language journalism.

Like most of our projects at ODDI, KettleCorn is open source so that all journalists can benefit from it and developers can build upon it. That’s why we’ll be doing demos at Mozilla Festival in London this weekend (follow the action on Twitter: @bbgkettlecorn and use #bbgkettlecorn).

It’s functionality also lends itself to academic and commercial use–it’s a multipurpose digital storytelling tool. For example, a BBC or a Discovery Channel could use it to enhance videos on their website, specifically when the topic begs a more in-depth look than the length of the video allows. The ability to add interactive articles and other elements means producers can add an extra layer to engage viewers longer.


Why Our Journalists Weren’t Using Popcorn

Last spring we began conducting Popcorn Maker training sessions with VOA, RFA and MBN journalists to teach and encourage them to use the tool. When we initially demoed Popcorn Maker, the journalists were extremely excited about the potential to tell rich interactive audio- and video-based stories. That initial enthusiasm started to wane as they tried to incorporate it into the deadline-driven newsroom environment. Despite their interest and our efforts, we saw limited adoption. We identified three main reasons:

  1. Too slow: The deadline-driven nature of journalism means that producers expect to quickly create finished, professional looking projects. In our training efforts we saw journalists spending far too much time creating basic effects like branded lower thirds.
  2. Too cartoony: The original Popcorn Maker was designed to be accessible to novices exploring content creation on the web. The current styles associated with Popcorn Maker are cartoonish and unsuitable for many news stories.
  3. Too unpredictable: Because it’s an open source project, new versions (and new bugs) are regularly released. This makes for an unpredictable (and at times unstable) user experience.

These aspects made it difficult to incorporate Popcorn Maker into the BBG journalist’s toolset.

Screenshot of the KettleCorn editor.

The KettleCorn editor interface and functionality is designed to be more intuitive and to cater to the needs of journalists.

Forking Popcorn Maker

We started by creating a BBG instance of Popcorn Maker. We’re working on hosting a stable instance with reliable core features and the ability to version and remix projects. We created new plugins to simplify common tasks like creating lower third titles, adding markers to maps and creating end card promos to related content. We also decreased the time-to-publish by adopting a more familiar text editor with pre-built styles and integrating standard features like undo/redo, the ability to rename layers and the ability to copy and paste events.

We restyled Popcorn for journalism. We updated the Popup plugin styles to make them more appropriate for the needs of journalists. We added automatic branding for creators logged in with USIM email addresses (e.g. VOA, RFE/RL, RFA, MBN) so that their logo will automatically populate. When RFA produces a project, a VOA language service can repackage the project and rebrand the project for VOA.

We built a tool that facilitates the translation, sharing and broadcasting of stories between different language services. Our goal was to create a platform to support BBG’s broadcasts in over sixty languages. To accomplish this goal, we made it easier for the content creator to switch between Spanish (left-to-right) and Arabic (right-to-left). Our second challenge was to integrate a machine translation service (Bing Translator) to automatically translate the text of a Popcorn project event and allow someone to easily edit and refine the text as needed. This will hopefully enable and encourage language services to adopt and rebroadcast material across the agency and around the world.

And finally we created a showcase gallery for KettleCorn projects to allow services (and consumers) to search and sort projects to see what is available for translating, remixing and rebroadcasting.

Embracing the Open Web

Creating a new piece of software from scratch is an expensive and time consuming proposition. By forking an open source project like Popcorn Maker, ODDI can leverage what other developers have already created and focus on the core features that will help our audience of journalists. KettleCorn is our chance to contribute to the open source movement and help support online journalism.

We’re unveiling KettleCorn at Mozilla Festival to try to build an international community of users, creators and developers to help support and extend the project. We hope to come back with additional feedback and suggestions that we can roll into the backlog of features we’re already planning to add.

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Brian Williamson

Brian Williamson

Brian Williamson is the senior UX designer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @drawinghands.

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